The Starblade was finally out of danger, for the time being, and all hands where attempting to salvage as much of the ship as possible. I began work on fixing the jump-drive and programming the drones to repair the hull; as if I didn’t have enough to do working with this inefficient body. The ship was already in the process of manoeuvring next to the corvette that attacked us, matching the rotation and speed of the adrift aft section. In the airlock, Callista, Kehan and a few crew members were suiting up in E.V.A suits, equipping pulse rifles and preparing a remote data-jacker to download information from the corvettes datacores. After aligning, the docking bridge extends over and clamped down on the opposite ship’s docking port. I was able to keep myself apprised of their situation from my limited uplink to the ship’s sensors and through their suit’s on board head cameras.
The light above the airlock door turns green, then the door opens. The away-team slowly cross the bridge to infiltrate the enemy’s ship.
“Do you really think we’ll be able to find what you’re hoping we do?” Kehan asks.
“Like I said, only we were meant to be out here. The planet is uninhabited, so no standard traffic,” Callista replies. “These pricks know something. The dealer and one other were the only two who I was in contact with for this run. I wanna know who, before I go a put a pulse through their skull.”
“Your stubbornness is going to get me killed one of these days,” he responds, shaking his head.
They stand ready. The destroyed corvette’s airlock opens to almost darkness, with only their suit’s and rifle’s lights illuminate the way.
A stream of air blows past them to the unpressurised airlock, stalling them briefly, then they filter in. The atmosphere equalizes and they continue through the airlock and into the passageway beyond.
“Jax? If the corvette’s design is similar to ours, would their storage drives be located in the same place as ours?” Callista asks.
Jax responds through their suit’s comm unit: “More than likely, right behind the secondary power relays. That is just a hunch, however. Their ship’s configuration could be moderately different to ours. Considering they had a cloaking device, the layout could have—”
“Alright, alright, I get it,” snaps Callista, impatiently as always. “While we gain access to the bridge, we’ll have a team set up the remote jacker. So you can dig away at what you can.”
“I’ll be waiting. The ship’s power is still fluctuating, it’s hard to pin point what systems will still be operational. And there’s still nothing on scanner’s either.”
“Ok fine. You three,” Callista says, indicating to the crew members in front of her. “Head to their third deck. Locate the datacores and set up the jacker. Inform Jax once you’re there, she’ll assist you. Return to the ship once you’re done.” All three respond to her orders, “Aye Captain,” then depart down the passage opposite to Callista and Kehan.
“Kehan, and…what ever your name is, with me. I’ll take point,” she continues.
Callista often took point when not on the ship, as her reflexes were superior to anyone else’s. She never took the chance of finding herself caught off guard because of someone’s inability to anticipate what was coming. The crew member with them must have felt relieved. All three process towards the bridge, while taking the odd opportunity to scout rooms for any potential remaining crew.
“I don’t like this,” Kehan says. “If this ship was with a full compliment of crew, then why aren’t we seeing more dead schmucks littering the place. Cutting the ship in two was bound to have dealt casualties.”
“What’s the matter, Kehan, afraid we might run into a ghost or the bogeyman?” Callista quips, without averting her attention.
“Shove it,” he snaps. “I’ve seen far more shit than you care to realise. There is something off about this ship.”
“Aww, Kehan is afraid of the dark.”
Kehan remains silent and angrily points his rifle at the back of Callista’s head, tensing up his index finger.
“Either pull the trigger or continue watching my ass,” Callista says.
Kehan huffs inside his helmet, almost forgetting her sixth sense like spatial awareness, then lowers his gun, slowly.
“If I wanted you dead you would be already, super-human reflexes or not.” he says, looking at his right arm and clenches his fist tighter around the butt of his rifle.
Callista chuckles briefly. “You know, you’re almost cute when pissed off.”
Taking a cautionary approach, it took them ten minutes to reach the bridge. Unpowered doors requiring manual override was their main hurdle. I continue watching them in anticipation, in between fixing the jump-drive. I practically finish it to working order, just need to reconfigure the quantum-matrix. Meanwhile, the other team had managed to reach the backup drive at this time. They attempt to jerry-rig several battery packs to power the data-cores and hook up the remote jacker, as Jax gives them instructions over the comm.
Callista, Kehan eventually gain access the bridge, which is still running on minimum backup power. However, it is completely deserted.
“Empty? How odd. I assumed it would have at least had the captain’s charred corpse,” remarks Kehan.
“He probably bolted, once the ship was cut in two,” replies Callista.
“Dishonourable fuckwit,” Kehan quips. “But then you’d do no differently.”
“I don’t think you’re in a position to talk about dishonour, Kehan. Besides honour is for the weak. A ridiculous notion. I have the integrity to survive, no matter the cost.”
“You have a serious mental illness, more like,” he responds, as if factious.
I honestly don’t understand his reluctance to leave. Does he have something on the Captain? Or is it the other way around?
Both Callista and Kehan work the terminals, attempting to gather what information they could. Callista plugs into the captain’s chair console a data-spike, which allows for remote hacking of the bridge command system.
“Jax? Can you override the bridge commands?” she asks.
“One second, I’m still directing the second team with the jacker. And done. The spike’s given me override.”
A series of knocking sounds ring out from within the ship. The sensors I have access to reveal very little.
“What the hell was that?” says the crew member, with elevated anxiety. His suit’s bio-signs sky rocket, while there’s a minor fluctuation in Kehans and almost no reaction from Callista’s.
“I guess we’re not alone,” replies Kehan. “Seal and watch the door.”
The second team complete the setup of the remote jacker, when they too hear strange noises from their part of the ship. Becoming agitated and on edge.
“Captain!” Jax says over the comm. “Captain, there’s sporadic movement across the ship. There’s no life-signs, just energy signatures, similar to Bel’s and definite movement.”
“Oh fuckit. Not again,” Callista says, as she stares blankly at the ceiling bulkhead. “Absolutely fucking typical.”
“Happy now? We’ve awoken a hornet’s nest, and to top it off were trapped,” Kehan asks, facetiously. “This had better be fucking worth it.”
“Save it, Kehan. What U.E.D. ship runs with zeds? I mean really?” Callista replies.
“Clearly one that doesn’t like intruders snooping around for secrets,” responds Kehan. “That or they had stowaways, and we unleashed them.”
“Ah, what do you mean, zeds?” asks the unnamed, confused, crew member. The banging grew louder, this time from the bridge door, as what ever behind it boxes them in.
“I think you’re about to find out,” replies Kehan, uncharacteristically vague.
Callista taps into her suit comm: “Second team, get off the ship. Use an escape pod if you can. Double time! Jax did you mine the datacores?”
Kehan just shakes his head, then moves rapidly to square up behind the captains chair, as the banging becomes louder against it.
“Yes, Captain. The jacker is still working and I’m pulling hundreds of petabytes off—”
“Alright, save it. We’ll look into it later. But right now we have a problem. Release the docking clamp and back away. We don’t want anything coming across.”
“But, Captain, how will you get back?” Jax replies, confused.
“A leap of faith.”
The docking clamp begins retracting back to the Starblade. The banging grew louder.
“On the count of three I’m opening the door,” commands Callista.
“And let what ever the hell that is in here?” responds Kehan.
“We can’t wait for them to burst the door down. We need to exit. Fast.”
“Is, is there no other way out?” asks the nameless crew member.
“Not unless you have a auto-spanner for the vents behind that bulkhead on you, no,” replies Kehan.
“Are you boys done making ‘friends’?” asks Callista.
“Fine open it,” replies Kehan.
“Get ready.” All three ready themselves. “One…two…three!”
Callista opens the door and backs away from it and stands behind a nearby terminal. As soon as it opens a burst of creatures start scuffling onto the bridge.
Originally perplexed by Callista’s previously onomatology, “zeds”, I surmised that they were bio-engineered lifeforms. They resembled, rather distressingly, like myself, only deformed. There were dozens of them, twisted and vile, like they were left in water to bloat and decay. Devoid of conciousness but yet somehow directed. Indeed, they were on closer inspection, through stills from the away teams head-cams, a similar model of B.E.L unit to myself but vacant of any distinct individual face or integrated personality. Presumably corrupted, somehow. Their gaping mouths uttered grotesque gargles, as their outreached arms and cruel hands attempt to grasp Callista and her crew. Neither of whom hesitate in opening fire. Pulses of purple light streamed towards the creatures. Each one searing through the grey, veined flesh. Humans presumably referred to them as ‘zeds’ or zombies, due to common depiction of similar creatures in horror movies. But this was no movie, it was something far worse.
“Where the hell are they coming from, we scouted the ship?” Kehan asks, with intensity.
“I don’t fucking care, keep shooting!” Callista responds, vocalising her rage inside of her helmet.
Each one of the creatures took multiple shots to render them ‘dead’, what you could call dead at any rate. More just kept coming. The second team was heard over the open comm; gargles and pulse shots rang out, followed by screaming. Then finally silence.
“My rifle’s going to over heat,” sparks Kehan.
“Damnit, we need a way out,” cries Callista.
“And I guess our brilliant Captain has an idea?”
“I do, but you’re not gonna like it,” she replies. Between shots she taps into her comm again: “Jax, shoot at the bridge with an auto-cannon.”
“Oh ok, you are seriously fucking mental, woman,” responds Kehan.
Jax responds: “are you sure Captain?”
“Do it!” commands Callista. “Port side. Then move adjacent to the breach. Everyone hold on to something.”
“Firing, auto-cannon,” signifies Jax.
Within seconds the auto-cannon fired one shot into the port side of the bridge, causing a hull breach. The minimum atmospheric pressure causes an explosive wave of depression. The crew were briefly stunned but unhurt from the blast. They grab onto what ever they could to prevent them from being hurled out into space uncontrollably. The creatures in the immediate vicinity were sucked out together. As one flew past the unnamed crew member it grasps a firm hold of his arm, with such force that it snaps his humerus. Screaming with terror and pain he resists being pulled out with the rest with his only free arm.
“Hold on!” shouts Kehan.
Holstering his overheated rifle, Kehan pulls himself to the lone crew member using his shear strength to work his way around the railing in the mid section of the bridge. Callista was holding on to a near by terminal with her legs wrapped around it’s base, still firing at creatures as they relentlessly continuing appearing through the doorway and ignoring the forceful pull of decompression; intelligent enough as they were. Kehan reaches out his arm and within seconds a blade pierces through his clenched fist, in between his middle and ring finger, then he swipes down with some force, severing the arm of the creature still attached to the crew member. It too, with nothing to hold on to, was vented into the coldness of space. Kehan braces himself against the terminal to assist the lone crew mate from following after.
After a minute the decompression wave was over, the atmosphere dissipates completely. The crew we left in the vacuum inside the bridge and with no gravity they were left floating freely. Kehan retracts his arm-blade and pulls on the crew member towards the breach. They both pull on the frayed bulkhead’s edge and launch themselves out and into the vast emptiness, unguided.
“Callista!” Kehan calls out towards his Captain, who was still firing at creatures still pouring through the doorway.
Realising the situation through her rage, she repositioned herself, kicks away at the terminal and drifts towards the breach, with her back to it. The creatures were still in pursuit and were still smart enough to grasp onto anything to pull themselves towards the crew. Their maws still gaping and arms reach out. Realising she didn’t provide herself with as much velocity as the creatures behind her, Callista kept shooting towards the horde.
All three were floating aimlessly through the emptiness of space. Jax had, as instructed, manoeuvred the Starblade beyond the breach and was agile enough to align the ship’s airlock to match their direction.
“Jax, target the bridge. Stop them from reaching the Starblade,” commands Kehan, with the crew member still in tow.
The auto-cannons reacquire the bridge and begin shooting past the three of them, obliterating the bridge and most of the aft section piece by piece.
As they reached closer the airlock was wide open and Kehan and the nameless crew member drifts in and eventually collide on the furthest wall inside. Callista follows them and is still picking off a few of the creatures not caught in the auto-cannon’s line of fire. As soon as she is inside the Starblade, Kehan operates the airlock door to close.
“The Fuckup’s inside, Jax, move us out of range,” Kehan commands.
The Starblade’s manoeuvring thrusters ignite and the ship banks away from the destroyed corvette. Kehan re-establishes the gravity and pressure inside of the airlock quickly, while Callista was still mid air facing the ceiling. Kehan and the other crew member land on their feet, while Callista lands on her back, hard. A deliberate and tactical move, if I’m not mistaken. He strides up to her as she is recovering, waits until she is half way up, then, catching her off guard, punches her in the jaw knocking her back down.
“I don’t normally hit women, but with a cunt like you I’ll gladly make an exception.” he says, spitefully. Callista looks at him, turns her head and then spits out a mouthful of blood, only to grin slightly through her bloodied teeth.
“Been waiting a long time to do that haven’t you?”
“Since the moment I fucking met you.” Kehan replies.
Callista remains on the floor, momentarily, and just glares at her second in command, who storms away towards the only other remaining crew member from the away team.
“Guess today was your lucky day. What’s you name son?” he asks.
“Uh, Ayden. Sir,”
“Well Ayden, go see Doc and get that arm looked after, then rest up. And try to forget that shit storm you’ve just been through; what we all have been through,” Kehan says, as he pats the young man on the shoulder. Aware that he was still clearly shaken by the experience. He leaves the airlock looking back briefly at his Captain but says nothing.
Watching the entirety of what just happened unfold, I must admit this whole situation had me on edge. I know humans have always had the capacity of surviving insurmountable odds, even ones they put themselves through. But I underestimated what tenacity Callista, as well as Kehan, were capable of. Watching it directly through their head-cams was indeed terrifying. A reminder to never provoke them both, without some sort of leverage at least.
What has me more agitated was the fact that those creatures were to similar to myself for my own comfort. How did they get there? What was their purpose? Only after analysing the data pulled from the destroyed corvette could we, and more specifically I, get some answers. I’m becoming ever more intrigued by this whole affair.
Laura Steel © 2016